Historically Unimportant Intelligence Board May Actually Become Important

Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 10:31 am

Perhaps I was too quick to dismiss the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board yesterday. The White House just released a new executive order that gives the board a powerful new institutional tool.

An executive order published by George W. Bush in January 2008 delineated the board’s powers. As the board reviews intelligence operations, Bush empowered it to “immediately report” on activities that “may be unlawful or contrary to Executive Order or presidential directive.” But that directive gave its reporting power to the president — who may have been the one who ordered such activities, in letter or spirit, in the first place. So it’s not much of a safeguard against lawlessness.

But President Obama changed that. The new executive order updating the 2008 one inserts language instructing the board to:

forward to the Attorney General information concerning intelligence activities that involve possible violations of Federal criminal laws or otherwise implicate the authority of the Attorney General

That holds out the prospect of the board becoming a check on intelligence abuses, as the attorney general — in theory — is beholden to enforce U.S. laws, not presidential prerogatives. We’ll have to see how this reporting requirement works in practice. But perhaps the board won’t be a backwater entity anymore.

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